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Cramer, B. Manzano, J. (1984). Introduction À L'Épistémologie Freudienne. (Introduction to Freudian Epistemology.): By Paul-Laurent Assoun. Paris: Payot, 1981. 223 pp.. Psychoanal Q., 53:327-329.

(1984). Psychoanalytic Quarterly, 53:327-329

Introduction À L'Épistémologie Freudienne. (Introduction to Freudian Epistemology.): By Paul-Laurent Assoun. Paris: Payot, 1981. 223 pp.

Review by:
Bertrand Cramer

J. Manzano

Psychoanalysis and Freud are sources of increasing fascination for nonpsychoanalytic scholars, especially for philosophers from France. This is partly due to the influence of Lacan, who has systematically attempted to pull psychoanalysis out of the field of the natural sciences and into a closer alliance with philosophy and literature.

Assoun is a philosopher who has previously published two books on Freud: Freud, Philosophy and the Philosophers and Freud and Nietzsche. The main thrust of his endeavor in his new book is an epistemological inquiry into the development of psychoanalysis, based predominantly on the scientific models of Freud's time. He proposes a kind of genealogy of Freud's main theses, based on the very thorough and detailed scholarly work that characterizes good French thinkers.

Assoun illustrates the underlying epistemology that led to Freud's discoveries: he states that Freud ignored a fundamental polemic that raged between the adherents of the natural sciences—who sought explanation—and those who were searching for understanding (verstehen), in the tradition of historical and human sciences. Freud avoided this dualism; he remained monistic, believing that there is only one science, the science of nature, and that understanding itself is an explanation.

A basic foundation of Freudian thinking was physicalism: the very word "analysis" can be traced back to chemical analysis; symptoms were conceptualized as needing to be decomposed into their drive components. Thus Freud appears to be remarkably conservative, as he borrowed from heuristic models that were half a century old.

Besides the monistic and physicalist trends, Assoun describes an "agnostic foundation" to Freud's thinking. He refers to the statement that the object of psychoanalysisthe unconscious—is the "thing in itself" which is by definition unknowable, just as in Kant's formulation. Agnosticism here refers to the fact that knowledge has definite limits. Du Bois-Reymond was extremely influential in this development, as was Ernst Mach.

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